Literally & Figuratively Speaking, They Nailed It

Hosted by

Tony Berlant (b. 1941), one of the best-known Los Angeles artists, figuratively and literally “nailed it” in his current exhibition at Kohn Gallery, running through November 2. For those familiar with his art, it’s always a bit of a challenge to decide: is he a painter, a sculptor, or a collage artist? For me, he is all three. I’ve been following his career for 40 years and continue to be intrigued and enamored by his choice of materials and the unique way he applies them.

Image Not Available
Installation shot, Self. 2018. Fast Forward. Tony Berlant. Kohn Gallery.  Photo credit: Edward Goldman.

Berlant collects decades-old tin packaging and metal signs, which he cuts into small shapes and proceeds to nail onto a wood panel, in his signature style of collage. The largest work in the exhibition, Self, is based on a Polaroid image of a young Tony Berlant taken by his friend, Andy Warhol.

Image Not Available
Installation shot, Fast Forward. Tony Berlant. Kohn Gallery. Photos by Edward Goldman.

A close examination of the surface of his collages makes one think that the source of the artist’s inspiration must be Native American quilting, with the nail playing the role of the needle. There are a number of new, three-dimensional works on display in the shape of rectangular boxes, installed perpendicular to the wall. As a result, one can see many sides of the proverbial coin.

Image Not Available 
Installation shot, 
Daywork: Portraits. John Sonsini. Long Beach Museum of Art. Photo credit: Edward Goldman.

A half-an-hour drive South on the 405 brings us to the Long Beach Museum of Art, to see the first comprehensive exhibition of paintings by the well-known Los Angeles artist, John Sonsini (b. 1951).

Image Not Available
L: Francisco. 2018. R: Saul and Lorenzo. 2008. John Sonsini. Photo credit: Edward Goldman.

For several decades, the focus of the artist’s practice has been portraits of Latino day laborers, whom Sonsini finds on the streets of LA and hires to pose for him at an hourly rate. Because the available time of his models is limited, the artist has to work quickly to capture their personalities and certain vulnerability, as well as the tension between the artist and model.

Image Not Available
Installation shot, Daywork: Portraits. John Sonsini. Long Beach Museum of Art. Photo credit: Edward Goldman.

Their body language indicates that these young men are not accustomed to being models, and definitely, the artist’s intention is not to beautify them. Instead, Sonsini focuses on the inherent pride and bravado of these hard-working men.

Image Not Available

Top and Bottom: Installation shots, Daywork: Portraits. John Sonsini. Long Beach Museum of Art. Photo credit: Edward Goldman. 

Though all of them pose for the artist in his studio, its walls dissolve and disappear. While all these day laborers quietly sit or stand, staring at us, the artist’s brushstrokes create a storm of color around them. Looking at these portraits, I swear I could hear the noise of the wide paintbrush moving wildly across the canvas.

I also want to praise Long Beach Museum of Art for not only organizing this important solo exhibition of John Sonsini’s work, but also for the particularly attractive design of the exhibition, with a touch of theatricality that echoes the exuberance and sophistication of Sonsini’s brushwork.



Kathleen Yore